Students see future Miami with more parks, trees and — to handle sea rise — boats

Where there is now flooding and an empty field, students at Coral Park Senior High see the possibility for a park with a lake.

With congestion on the single causeway leading to and from Key Biscayne, students at MAST Academy think ferries could help residents escape natural disasters, cut down on traffic and even spark local business.

And in Hialeah Gardens, where the elderly seem more interested in television novelas than climate change, students at Hialeah Gardens Senior High want to install visual markers of just how far seas are expected to rise.

Using tracing paper, colorful sticky notes and intimate knowledge of their own neighborhoods, Miami-Dade high school students on Wednesday brainstormed ways to transform suburban landscapes, take care of the aging population and keep their communities resilient in a climate-challenged future.

Their ideas could have real-world impact when the United Nations convenes an international conference on sustainable housing and urban development in October. Their plans will help form the basis of Miami’s recommendations to the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development ahead of the conference in Quito, Ecuador.

“Their voices are going to be heard,” said José Cintrón, director of the HUD Miami Field Office.

The students worked with professors and students from the University of Miami to learn how to solve problems through architecture and urban planning and by using the natural environment. Armed with large maps of their neighborhood and stats that showed just how much sea level rise is expected to impact where they live, the students were encouraged to think locally.

“They know their neighborhood, so that’s a cool thing. And they know how to enhance it,” said engineering professor Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos. “They have so much knowledge, but you have to get them to use it creatively,”

If the teens from Homestead, Hialeah Gardens, Key Biscayne and Richmond Heights had their way, Miami-Dade would be covered in sidewalks and shaded by trees. Canals and boats would become a main mode of transportation. Porous roadways and empty plots of land would become rainwater collection centers that could recharge drinking water supplies — and maybe even produce electricity.

“We found a lot of opportunity,” said Carlos Barredo, a sophomore from BioTECH magnet school in Richmond Heights.

Students from Hialeah Gardens proposed green corridors and bikeways that connect their city’s underused parks. Sculptures would give people a reason to outside, and provide meeting places for people of different cultures — an important point for Soleil Lobato.

Hialeah Gardens borders an industrial area of nearby Hialeah and the sophomore at Hialeah Gardens Senior would like to attract residents there to her community’s parks.

“The culture over there is very work [oriented], and there’s no leisure,” she said. “I want different people to mix together. It’s very important. You learn about different cultures.”

Students from Maritime and Science Technology (MAST) high school on Virginia Key saw great beauty — and great challenges — in the water that surrounds them.

“The main problem with Key Biscayne is the evacuation route,” said Tajmaus Johnson, a senior at the school. “There’s only one entry, one exit.”

They proposed turning a water treatment plant into a triple-duty structure that could be a hurricane evacuation center and also provide a venue for concerts.

Sonia Chao, director of the Center for Urban and Community Design at the University of Miami, said she hopes kids will be encouraged to take a personal stake in designing neighborhoods that are better for the environment — and better to live in.

“Each one of us is part of the problem. Each one of us has the potential to be a part of the solution,” she told them. “Stop thinking this is someone else’s problem.”

Christina Veiga: 305-376-2029, @cveiga